in Leading Change, Leading Projects, Process Improvement, Quality Improvement

Improvement: Show Them The Results

A child develops confidence as she experiences things around her. We buy into products for which we perceive experience to be positive. We support causes that deliver positive results. In an organizational context, how can we then expect people to be totally committed to the improvement initiative at the start? People will never commit to anything that they have never experienced first hand.

As a manager, if you are trying to improve your work practices, remember this: Let your improvement initiative speak for itself through positive business results. Sell benefits of the process improvement, involve people in those initiatives, give them some control and build trust as you go. In a hurry to generate a buy-in for our shiny new initiative, we often fall in trap of excessively training and preaching people about processes. In extreme cases, improvement leaders start forcing people to comply with those methods. While people may comply dispassionately, the improvement initiative will not generate the desired/optimal results.

Here are a few practical lessons to let people experience benefits of your improvement initiative:

Clarify the need for improvement: People want to know how any improvement will resolve a real business problem. Establish the need for improvement and communicate the purpose. Alternately, also show them the consequences – the rewards for success and the pain of current situation. These two are compelling reasons for people to embrace change.

Set improvement goals: Once a reasonable buy-in for improvement exists, set goals on what needs to be achieved. Review and revise these targets as you go. Publish the progress and do not forget to be involved yourself. People judge importance of any initiative by the level of a leader’s involvement.

Involve them and set them free: Once broad goals are established, set people free. Allow them to exercise their knowledge and find out the best possible route to achieve results. Autonomy is a powerful driver of change.

Handhold and Facilitate: When people experiment, they will fail. Set up rituals and practices to provide help. Give them necessary training, facilitate them and handhold them as required. Eliminate barriers and ensure that team stays focused.

Communicate Results: Document success stories. Share them with a wider audience through internal mechanisms like blogs and wikis. Ensure that these results are talked about in employee meetings. Make those results tangible, understandable and relevant to business goals.

Goal is not 100% buy-in: Do all of this and you will still have a portion of your organization that would be skeptical about results. The goal of any improvement initiative is never to have a 100% buy-in, because it may not be possible. The idea is to have a majority buy-in and then convert skeptics into believers and doers by being persistent in the efforts.

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Also Check Out: A great collection of leadership posts and insights in May 2012 Edition of Leadership Development Carnival over at Dan McCarthy’s Great Leadership Blog.

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  1. This is such important advice, Tanmay. So many initiatives get labeled “soft” and are not taken seriously because they’re not clearly linked to tangible business results. It makes all the difference to get agreement on clear measures of success at the beginning, and then to document and communicate progress broadly along the way.

    • Yes Jesse, and leadership plays a very crucial role in organization-level and initiative-level improvements. They either manage from trenches or don’t demonstrate involvement in improvements, which is why even when improvements have direct business impact, they are perceived to be “soft”.

      • I really like your “both-and” approach to the role of leadership: “set them free” AND “hand-hold and facilitate.” Too many people take and “either/or” approach and are either micro-manage or disappear.

        • Yes, my experience so far suggests that simply providing autonomy does not work. Once goals are set, people like working in autonomous mode so that they can own the initiative. The role of leader then is not to tell them how to do something, but provide support system through consulting/facilitation. This approach has ALWAYS worked for me. 🙂

  2. Great message, Tanmay!
    I particularly like your statement ‘People will never commit to anything that they have never experienced first hand.’ Spot on. The will to change, to actually act is strongly related to the results/benefits that people see or believe are feasible. And this belief depends strongly to the extend in which people feel aligned and engaged. A big role to play for leaders here.

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